Saturday, March 21, 2009

A message for Miz Angie

Miz Angie, I just saw your comment on David's site about your dad when he was in the nursing home. It reminded me of something I’ve wondered about with my mom. In the early weeks after her stroke, once she got well enough to leave the hospital, she spent about three months in a nursing home—supposedly for “rehab” but the “rehab” they had there was laughable—it was near the holiday season and there were many days when she didn’t get the session because certain people were off duty. And when she did get it, it was still ridiculous, because they wouldn’t let her stand, try to improve her balance or anything useful, and the rehab consisted of moving her arms maybe. While she was in that nursing home, she always had stories to tell us of the things that would happen at night—she would be taken upstairs or downstairs to be left in a strange room (it was a one-story building), in her wheelchair, while everyone participated in sexual behavior. She’d feel exhausted from being in the chair all night, and scared of being taken there again. All of the staff participated in these parties, as did some of the patients, willing or not. Even she herself did—although she explained, well, you know how powerful sex is—it’s not that they find me attractive, they’ll just do it to anybody. And she’d try to tell us the stories, but stop anytime any of the staff was near for fear they would hear. She promised to tell us more when she was safely away from there.

At the same time, there were daytime staff she really liked and enjoyed. One of them was a lovely young speech therapist/dietician who helped my mom with her meals. They fell in love with each other immediately because the dietician had grown up in my mother’s home town. She begged us, as it became clear my mom wasn’t going to die soon, to get her out of there before she became “institutionalized.” We were able to do that, with our short-lived plan of taking her home, each of us taking certain days of the week to be with her, along with other women coming in on the days we couldn’t be there. Well, after only two weeks at home she had a crisis of falling blood pressure and fainting and nearly dying, firemen and ambulance rides, etc., and it was clear she was too unstable physically so we had to look for something else. Luckily there was a vacancy in the assisted living community where she is now.

Her strange stories stopped immediately upon leaving the first nursing home. I asked her once, after a week or two in the new place, if any of that stuff was going on there, and she said no. She likes it there, she admits, although of course she’d rather turn the clock back to where she could live at home independently.

For me, there’s always that small part of me that fears “what if what she’s saying is/was true?” Too horrifying to think about too much. Still, I wonder . . . Isn't it strange virtually all patients in nursing homes tell these stories.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

is it panic or reality?

I made myself a promise yesterday to rededicate myself to my home and garden—I’ve done nothing outside since the last time I mowed sometime in September I think. Since then we’ve had this crazy weather of snow, ice, or a few nice days during the week which collapses into snow, rain, or whatever during the weekends when I would normally do some yard work. Of course, my Saturday’s are taken with visiting my mother, so no work gets done then. But Sunday dawns, and the plans I had to clean and garden seem impossible to fit in and I’m lucky if I can get to the store and shop for groceries. And today, a new Sunday, here I am sitting here at the computer while the precious minutes pass.

Last week a co-worker stopped by my desk and talked about how she was getting so stressed out with her job. She works in a field where absolute accuracy is required—every tiny error is counted and shown back to her, and she is counseled. As they do this, her self-confidence plunges and she becomes more fearful of making errors, and thus makes more of them, and the cycle accelerates and continues.

I myself was frustrated with my own work at the time, having arranged a visit and payment for such from a consulting physician and later finding out the paperwork I’d done was obsolete and it was now done completely differently and no one had told me that. I was very upset—I don’t like wasting my time doing things wrong, nor do I like wasting other people’s time, and am embarrassed about the delay in the visitor receiving their pay. I was insulted that no one thought to tell me about the change—am I so unimportant in their thinking that I don’t need to know new stuff? And behind this anger is the fear that the difficulty of my job is becoming more than I can handle—am I losing the mental ability to do it all now that I’m getting so old.

Anyhoo, as I and the other lady talked, we decided we needed to rededicate ourselves to something other than our work, because it’s really not supposed to be that important. In the hours outside of the eight we spend at the desk, we should have a life and other things we are interested in. In her case, she’d for a few months begun a fitness program and was losing weight. She did great for awhile and looked great but it dropped by the wayside and here she is again, having gained it all back, feeling the effects of high blood pressure and threats of impending diabetes. And me, instead of maintaining my yard and house and doing new projects, I’m sleeping constantly or worrying and watching the dustbunnies take over.

And my plans to get things done—they just don’t get done because I am overcome with bitterness and sadness that my sisters have abandoned my mother and me, and I’m doing all my mother’s financial stuff and trying to keep up with my own. And at this point, that is all that’s getting done—our bills are getting paid. Getting the mail at night is a chore that I dread—the junk mail I have to plow through every day to get to the important stuff—it fills me with anger and resentment. My mother gave to every charity—a little bit to be sure, but now that she’s not contributing, they are sending her tons of pleas, with address labels that need to be shredded and I hate having to spend the time shredding all that crap before I can even write the checks needed. By the time that’s done each day, I don’t want to do anything else but sleep.

A recurring thought pounds through my head at all times—no wonder I’m crazy. In a long blog that I deleted awhile back, I described my life from the beginning—in a family that was textbook in its construction—I was the scapegoat—the youngest of three kids, and a narcissistic mother and absent father. I should not be surprised or hurt by my sisters’ abandonment now—that has always been their way. I should not have expected anything else, but I remain astounded at their ability to be so cruel.

Truly though, I’m not just thinking about myself now. I am so frightened of the current economic problems—the horrible losses that people are enduring, and not enduring—the rash of suicides and murder/suicides that are happening. The horror! And the bonuses paid out to AIG executives amidst this horror.

I spoke with my son by phone a week ago—telling him not to lose hope—reminding him that the reason my mother ended up a relatively rich woman was because of the trauma she and her mother experienced during the Great Depression. That the reason I’m not financially ruined now is because the trauma of my childhood made me so cautious that I am now okay financially, and developed a work ethic (to put it simply, I knew that nobody else could be trusted to be there for me); neither of my sisters had that and both now have to live on the meager provisions of public programs. I tell him this because of an unspeakable fear that he might, if he lost his job, feel so desperate that he might take that way out. He’s never said anything that should make me think he would do that, but my nighttime thoughts go wild sometimes. He has long lived away from us, in his (deceased) father’s part of the country, and he is fundamentally religious and you know, that is not a fluffy, feel-good type of philosophy to follow.

And today I wake to new snow, so no yard work (yippee—not my fault this time), but instead of cleaning house, I’m writing this, and know I’ve got it good, but there seems to be no bottom to the bottom anymore, so that’s nothing I can depend on. It’s not that I’m unsympathetic to others—I’m so empathetic that I’m feeling their fear as well as my own. And I can no longer think of anything comforting to say to anybody.

Here’s what I hope to do today if I ever get up from this chair. The only things I can do—drag my vacuum around, scrub the uncarpeted areas on my knees, because I’m in this for the exercise not the convenience, try to get to the grocery store, and check yesterday’s mail for the daily bills and pile of junk mail. And try to make it until some mindless crap comes on TV and I can lose myself in it. Such as Celebrity Apprentice, which I am watching closely in hopes that Clint Black will take off his hat or say something. Surprisingly I am liking Tom Green whose humor I’ve always hated, but he seems like a sweet guy although a little annoying.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Oh Savannah . . .

So, last week, I’m sitting in Savannah, . . . .at a wrought-iron table in a charming courtyard at a motel with my daughter. I’m here again, at the yearly teaching conference for my job. I got out of this last year because of my mother’s illness, but here it is again. And in Savannah, where I always wanted to go. When I complained to my daughter that the last meeting I went to was hard to endure because of the snobbiness of the other attendees, she said she’d come with me. We got there three days before the meeting started so we could see the sights and we did just that and I love Savannah and want to live there now. I’m thinking, heat, schmeat—I can stand it for the privilege of living here. Then during one of the house tours the guide mentions that at least twice, nearly the whole town was wiped out by Yellow Fever, so I realize, okay, it’s not just the sweating that’s the problem. Our plane landed near midnight so we were driven to the city in the dark. Returning to the airport the following weekend, on our way home, we leave in daylight and I see the beauty is restricted to downtown Savannah. Still—I love it so. The numerous ghost stories—if not the spirits of the people who owned the beautiful houses we toured, then it was the spirits of the civil war dead already in the ground on which the houses were built. We went to the cemetery in town, and read the gravestones and found that love (and sorrow) endures past death, if only in the words on those stones.

The day before the meeting started, the other conference attendees started to arrive. One comes up to our table there in the courtyard of the motel. I recognize her face, but don’t remember her name. However, I say, “Hi, I’m ____________ . . .” and she says “Yes, I’ve met you several times,” and turns her attention to my daughter. I continue “ . . . and this is my daughter, _______________.” Oh!, she says, surprised that I have such a lovely relative. And we all chatted for awhile even though I was thinking “OMG!” about her rudeness.

Now I can see myself saying to someone “Yes, I’ve met you several times,” but I would follow that up with at the very least, “How are you?” Miss middle-aged mean girl apparently felt no need to do that. The rudeness was so blatant, there was no choice for me except to act as if it didn’t happen. I should not care, but of course, the encounter lives on and repeats itself in my mind and I try to think of what I should have said. Most of all though, I’m glad my daughter inherited the charisma my mother has and people are drawn to her.

In spite of shit like that, my daughter and I had fun. We walked till our feet were numb or painful. For the last three days, during the time I was stuck in meetings, my daughter saw what was closed or unavailable earlier. It was fab.

The conference leader recommended the she crab soup at one of the best restaurants there. Sounds faintly racey to me, that word “she.” Why not “lady crab soup,” but we went there and ordered it. First I asked what’s in it, and the very young waitress said crab, of course, named various spices, and roe. I thought out loud, well, if it weren’t for the roe—I wasn’t sure I was up to that. She smiled and said “Well, that’s what makes it ‘she.’” Can you see the roe, I asked? No, she assured me—it’s mixed in. So we braved it. It was worth it. And we did not explain to my daughter what roe is until after we ate it.

The day before we left for the conference, we celebrated my granddaughter’s birthday at The Great Wolf Lodge. This is a huge complex, with several swimming pools (one with waves where everybody bounces around in inner tubes). And giant, giant waterslides. I’ve always wanted to go on a waterslide, but just never go the opportunity before. My grandson and son-in-law went on it with me, misleading me by saying we’re going on the next to largest, not the scarey one. However, that was a lie. It was the biggest, scariest one. And more fun than I expected to have ever again. I arrived there late, because I drove several miles in the wrong direction and had to retrace for an hour or so, to get to the right place. I was frantic with frustration about that when I arrived, but that waterslide erased all that stress immediately. You go down the slide in a rubber raft, not with just your body, and the raft has handles that you can hang on to, but my grandson thought the handles just reduce the thrill of it all and I realized later that he was just a loose flying object when he didn’t hang on, but we all survived.

I have enlisted my daughter and her friend to help me develop a bathing suit for people like me who want to swim but don’t want to reveal anything. I’m picturing something like a wetsuit, with legs down to midthigh (I’m never going to submit to waxing, so you must be able to see my point). Short sleeves would be okay, I guess but longer ones would be optional, and no deep cleavage. I got this idea when my granddaughter used her gymnastic costume as a swimsuit last summer—it was adorable with little-boy shorts legs.

However, there were many many grandparents there, wearing bathing suites, and taking their grandchildren on the slides. So, I got over it and tried everything they had there.

So all in all, I had eight days of mostly fun. Can’t believe it’s over. Back to the grindstone. But I’m happy and fortunate to still have a grindstone to return to.